The Blending of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios: A Look At The Last Decade

Once separated by look, story and feel, Pixar and Disney Animation have become increasingly similar in style. How has this affected the studios?
Disney and Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar Animation Studios photo via Pixar Post. Roy E. Disney Animation Building photo via Disney Animation

If you’re an animation fan, you may be able to identify which studio created each film by its look and feel — but as technology has advanced and companies aligned, the lines have gotten a little more blurry. Let’s first clarify that we’re not saying that the blurring of studio lines is a bad thing, but it is something that’s been talked about more and more over the last decade and it’s something we wanted to explore a little more.

The conversation started brewing in 2006 when Pixar was brought under the Disney ownership umbrella and announced that Ed Catmull (President) and John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer) would helm both studios under the new deal.

Almost immediately, it was a match made in heaven for the companies — the pains of distribution deals were wiped off the table and Disney would gain new leaders to help guide the company back to greatness. Well, over the last decade, Disney has indeed forged ahead with films like Wreck-it Ralph and Zootopia bringing in top-tier ratings and big bucks.

Inside Out Riley and Parents Hockey Screencap

During the deal, it was agreed upon to keep Disney Animation and Pixar Animation operating as separate entities to ensure that the unique culture of Pixar would remain intact (as they revamped Disney’s culture).

But, as I was reading a recent interview with Ed Catmull in The Australian it got me thinking about how much has changed over the last ten years. In the article, Catmull briefly talked about how the “Brain Trust” at Pixar helped Disney with Zootopia and how the “Brain Trust” at Disney helped Pixar with Inside Out. Excerpt below.

“Initially it was Pixar teaching Disney how to do it but we only did that for a year and a half and then Disney got going,” Catmull says.

They were kept separate for years until Pixar was “a little stuck” with Inside Out. The Disney Braintrust “looked at the film and they helped pick at a problem that was in the way. As soon as we heard [their answer], we realized it was true and ‘oh, we’ve got two groups of people who like each other, they want each other to succeed, they speak the same language, they know what it means to give meaningful notes and they’re fresh eyes’.” 

Zootopia Judy Hopps screecap

Later, the Pixar Braintrust found two flaws holding back Zootopia. “Then I realized not only do we have a Braintrust, which is unique in the industry, but we have two of them,” Catmull says with a laugh. “And it gives Disney an incredible strength to have two groups, who once per film can give feedback to the other — and only once per film because no longer are they fresh eyes.”

So, the article sparked a few additional questions and we want to know your thoughts — how do you feel about the blending and overlap of the two studios? Do you think the overlap is better because it helps improve the animation between the two studios as a whole? Do you think the two studios should stay separate in order to keep two unique identities?

Inside Pixar Animation Studios
Image © Pixar Post

As blending happens, you definitely have risks of reducing uniqueness between the two companies. But, on the flip side, you also have more minds to try and untangle a story if it’s stuck (as demonstrated in the example above). But it also makes my mind ask the question (although I don’t think this will happen anytime soon)…if the two studios come more and more together in terms of similarities, will both studios always exist individually, or would they one day merge as their parent companies did?

Leave a comment below or chat about it at the Pixar Post Forum – we want to hear your thoughts.

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